NOTTINGHAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION 2013
The winners of this year’s competition were announced at a public adjudication given by David Constantine at the Mechanics Institute, Nottingham on Saturday 26th October 2013.
First Prize: Linda Goulden
Second Prize: Suzanne Batty
Third Prize: Susan Davies
Merit Prizes: Tony Challis, Fay Dickinson, Roger Elkin, Catherine Hatt, David Paul Jones, Charity Novick, Bernice Read, Laura Seymour, Cathy Symes, Josie Turner
David Constantine’s comments are appended after the poems.
Wife and Artist Revisit the Orrery
Why bring us here again?
Once he spoke of wonders, worlds
in miniature, marvellous machines and light
came to his eyes, colour to his skin.
He laughed and whirled the children round.
In this place mechanical astronomy
reveals, on earth, a treadmill of the heavens.
No God pronounces sentence or reprieve.
Nothing diverts us from our path.
As you, husband, turn about your art
so I dwindle to revolve round you.
The model speaks of distance beyond grasp.
It lessens me, shadows my hopes.
Unmoved by faith, fortune casts
shade where love once beamed.
My pearls and silver lose their sheen.
What was I hoping for?
The smiles of society are turned elsewhere
and their fair mathematics muzzles me.
Too long a silent prisoner of gloom,
I dreamed the light of curiosity could kill
dark thoughts or nature teach the means to free
my captive mind from circularity.
No. This shows, plain as a moonbeam,
there will be no other way.
Though I burn bright as day,
free as a child among his toys
to draw and shine and colour all I see,
yet, in a minute’s arc, I enter
a dark, slow, absence of invention.
The wheel revolves. There’s nothing to be done
but outlast lethargy, counting on light’s return.
First: Linda Goulden – Wife and Artist revisit the Orrery
The poem deploys its central image with all the grace and precision of the thing – the orrery – itself. Like a good Metaphysical poem, it treats feelings with precise intelligence, and increases the pathos by doing so.
All you could imagine you deserved – the gas towers rising and falling,
the promise of their frostbitten, scaffolded hearts.
You told me you could not write. Pylons stamped across the page,
snow-light crept around your jagged edges.
There was a phone box you liked to shut yourself up in, a scuffed
blue path at the edge of the terraces you tightrope-walked along.
In Wincobank in winter the buses stopped halfway up the hill,
they could not reach you. There was nowhere to go -
no money for the corner shop where people chatted in their severed
dog-head slippers, no entry at Shire Green Working Men’s Club.
You told me you longed to go back to your home made of plastic sheeting
and branches, pieces of string, where in the mornings, rain would pool
at the threshold. You would stretch out your tongue like a giraffe and drink.
I liked to think of muddy water filling up your stomach with water boatmen
and scum. The fire could not be lit, the town was barricaded against you,
local women spat on your breasts.
When you described to me the night a lightless car drew up and men
dressed as militia, threw a stinking wave of maggots over you -
did you expect my pity? How you loved to be persecuted! You rubbed
wood ash into your skin, ate seaweed, raised the ghost of Janis Joplin.
How solid the house was, like a meat freezer; pigs as bloody
as Friday night dresses hung on a rack. Naked
except for the stars shaved into your head, you climbed
inside a carcass, your face peering out from its pink lace neck.
If there had been anyone there, they would have said it suited you;
that you had found your place.
You brought with you young Americans, armed and metallic
as grain towers, who filled the yard with the decomposing sun,
their foul-smelling, incomplete bodies, their broken jaws
and carved-up faces pressed against the window.
I expect the gas fire sputtered, lost its blue -
a cigarette held against it only smoked. You feared the body
shape painted on the yard’s glass-topped wall, the cats
who broke in like urine-scented storm troopers, pissed on your feet.
Of course you had no one to wash them; I was not the only one
You told me how you crouched in an army-surplus sleeping bag
on a rented sofa, like a piece of origami, watching snow fall.
Second: Suzanne Batty – Wincobank
The images, powerful en masse, are singly all very telling. The poem manages its feelings – a violent rage, disgust – within the discipline of couplets, and allows a moment of poignancy, even of pity, as it ends.
The boy light as a bird
is lifted into the boat by the gunner
bristling for the kill. The boy’s hand
placed on the rudder, the man at the helm
allows the boy to believe this is
what he must do to be among men,
steering the boat through spume
the fleet bobbing and tilting under
an uncertain sky darkened by a swarm
of migrating skylarks to winter in Africa.
The boy’s eyes grow wild with the beating
of wings, the fusillade, the parched rainfall
of crying birds tumbling from his memory
as he stands an old man before Gozzoli’s
fresco of St. Francis blessing birds.
And he recalls the dead kestrel with wings
stretched wide nailed to a crude cross
which made him scream in madness
to his mother’s skirts where he trembled
like the birds with broken wings.
And his mother called him Little Bird -
Little Bird whi lived all his life
in this place of rage, this unblessed house.
Third: Susan Davies – Skylarks
The man, the boy, the skylarks, the crucified kestrel: you can feel the harm being done. And the counter-images – St Francis, the mother, the pet name (‘Little Bird’) – are deeply oignant in their ability to heal it. We are left with an ‘unblessed house’.
Ten reasons for keeping a Caterpillar.
I like to see my caterpillar munching on cabbage leaves I then don’t have to
I like to sense its full stop gaze tying me to the spot.
I like to study it creeping, and think of the lives that would be saved if tanks ran
on actual caterpillar tracks.
I like to watch its back rise and fall as it moves, as though it is shrugging off the
I like the stare of incomprehension that it inspires in cat and dog.
I like the way it disappears in leaves, invisible; no future as a fairy’s scarf for
I like the image of the bull caterpillar, masticating the matador’s stocking.
I like to touch its furry back, and imagine a cater pillow.
I like the ease with which it hides under leaves and gnaws, like a green
I like it when it begins its metamorphosis…………. and I can go on holiday.
Tony Challis – Ten Reasons for keeping a Caterpillar
This poem does what a poem should do: makes you think its subject is worth your while, that you should pay more attention. Droll, witty, persuasively inventive. All in a neat structure.
Katherine Bradshaw dumping me in
A large, clean plastic bin during Woodwork.
Being bored by Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd”
(“Too much sheep and grass”), then ecstatically
Overwhelmed by “Jude The Obscure” at sixteen.
Katherine Bradshaw writing exam answers
On her shiny, satiny slip and lifting her skirt
All through the test to study her petticoat.
Drawing political maps of Europe and
Painstakingly shading the land with blue fringes
To indicate sea, but never absorbing just where
Warsaw or Munich were located.
Katherine Bradshaw dyeing her hair blonde
And talking a lot about sex.
1 thought sects were religious groups, so
Stored the information for future enlightenment.
Mr. Bailey, History, making us always write in ink
And Lynne Hardy slinking a snowball into my bag
Thus inadvertently ruining my immaculate notes.
Communal showers and Katherine Bradshaw
Saying my breasts were like “mosquito bites”.
Trendy English teachers making jokes about keeping
“Polo Mints” next to their hairy thighs, and snickering
Comments such as, “I like your top, Janice, and your
jumper’s not bad either.”
Mrs. Fowler, English Lit, saying she was so bored
She wished someone would run into the classroom screaming.
Katherine Bradshaw obliging….
Fay Dickinson – Schoolday Snapshots
Everyone may remember such details, but in a poem they have to be sharply clarified, they must be particular but (somehow) also figurative, so that they will strike the reader as at once novel and familiar. That happens here
Through A Glass Darkly
If you were in Bosnia,
and had followed the Neretva river
northeast from its coastal outlet at Opuzen,
through its broad valley, and, twisting by
the Croatian border control, slipped due north
past Melkovic and Klepci, across its arable plateau,
its rich pasture, and snaked between wrecked settlements -
Buna, Jasenica, Rodoc – with tumbled-down houses,
gutted huts, farmlands wasted, destroyed
and on, up through burnt-out Mostar, its broken-backed bridge,
and beyond, as far – even – as war-torn Sarajevo
you would question, wouldn’t you, how could there be a God
up there, looking down, allowing this to happen
the farmer, his wife,
their farmhands with bucket and scythe
scattered about the yard
cattle flattened on their sides
and littered across ground
chickens/ducks flustered to nothingness,
horses toppled, sheep beached,
the only thing on four legs, a dog
shippon, barn, farmhouse – all upkeeled -
their doors ajar, windows done-in, roofs tumbled
fields displaced, even cabbage patch askew
as if picked up and dashed back down again
hedges and fieldwalls ransacked at zagging angles,
gates unswung, trees wanting limbs
tractor abandoned, over-turned,
its driver vanished away
But this is Wales, is Bridgend, decades later,
and, Gulliver-tall, I’m this moment’s divinity
blandly overviewing the crash-bang-disaster
of two-year-old grandson Adam’s
cast aside Happy Valley farm
and can’t help smiling wryly
at how soon we put away childish things …
Roger Elkin – Through a Glass Darkly
Especially in the central section of this poem, success lies in the details, in what Blake calls ‘minute particulars’. Here they are sharp and suggestive enough to support the overarching structure (Bosnia/ Bridgend) and a large and important topic: the murderous folly and wickedness of war, and one lucky child’s innocence.
Lincolnshire beach, 1950′s
Every summer we’d talk of it,
the beautiful thing, a mirage of
spread sails. At its unchanging distance
it became a myth. Then we had a timetable
and the neatness on the tideline
was suddenly gigantic. As though we knew
the iron legs would be striding down on us.
When it sat gull-white on the horizon
there was a sweetness to the scale,
north sea-coast summer-house, verandah.
But this now was close to terror,
sci-fi bleached crab creation, big
as a village. The flying saucer
carapace, vilely stained
like broken ships, powered motionless
towards us, pouring rust from cockpit
spyholes. Only half pretending, we felt
a flight crew target us, defenceless
on the open shore. So cold now, we heard
sour mud suck at the gantries,
and a constant boom, and sighs like
old recordings, a whispered mother
where a few waves penetrated,
cast their rippling light on the underside
of gouged and filthy boards. We stared
dry-mouthed upward, through torn jags of
canopy, directly at the massive eyeball
brain which flapped and screeched
against the mast which held it,
black bull’s-eye of its white
and shining acre. For that moment
and afterwards – though we never
mentioned it again – we too looked
downward from the empty sky,
saw wreckage whole and radiant,
the musicians just beginning.
Catherine Hatt - Bandstand
At the heart of this poem there is a haunting mystery. It works in a peculiar way: at once sensuously precise and yet unfathomably strange. It brings something close, a thing that is both horrible and, in its memory of music and entertainment, very poignant.
Staying Up Late
From a sonnet sequence: ‘Scenes from Childhood’
8 May 1945
That day, my Dad smelt funny when he came back home;
he was all smiles, and laughing a lot. He said
‘let’s walk to the park and see what’s going on;
it doesn’t matter if you’re late for bed.’
When we got there, everything around
was new. There was a kind of circus ring
with lots of people in it. A man in the crowd
blew his trumpet, and everyone suddenly burst out singing.
Then at the church they started to ring the bells,
and next to us a lady started to cry.
I thought maybe she wasn’t feeling well,
but the person with her told me the reason why:
now it was over, it was time to count the cost;
he said I’d never know how much we all had lost.
David Paul Jones – Staying up late
This sonnet manages quite a difficult thing: to hold a child’s view on a momentous event in the grown-up world. So it has lines of great innocence in simple language and tone. Elsewhere (in Sassoon’s ‘everyone suddenly burst out singing’) there is an adult’s knowledge of the other war – that was supposed to end all wars.
Replace the dead flowers. Take bruised roses, curled
into their chests, weak at the bloom-bases,
dusted with mildew, core-sick, refurled.
Take slimed freesias, mucoid but refusing,
to go gently; sprays sweet – wither-waisted
at the stem. Half rot. Half not. Confusing.
Take bleached baby’s breath, starch-structured, thread-thin,
like a small, dry tree, hung with bone blossoms.
Sound its starred skeleton against your skin.
Wrap up the leavings. Stoop for rubber bands
too good to waste. Now strain them, cat’s-cradle,
parsimonious, in your weekly hands.
Go back to your telly, your tea, your tears,
to your raw hemisphere, with shredded scraps
of shredded cellophane
lining your ears.
Charity Novick – Votive Jam-Jars
There is something pitiless about this poem. Or rather, by facing up as honestly and closely as possible to the hard facts of grief, by withholding pity, the poem excites it. The repeated imperatives, together with the strict tercets and their rhymes, make up the discipline for a life that has to be lived.
Whitechapel: Jews on the run.
Then twenty-year tensions touch off
a new diaspora from an old rabbi’s
intransigence, as he sweats in Brick Lane,
to chisel out bread for clever sons
who want to swim in all that honey.
In the end, he leaves the old woman,
who has struggled with the language,
tracked down local schools,
despised her neighbours.
The children marry out, a few of them
silent till death about Jewish roots
and everyone quarrels and holds back
support from the ever-living parents.
This is not a pretty story.
Nowadays, they all try harder,
attend uncustomary weddings,
dance at discos, kiss happily
their pretty little no-faith brides,
without a thought of Jehovah.
And they take to their hearts, Ysabelle.
Her parents may never marry
but she’ll be christened, respectably
decked out in a loose-frilled heirloom.
Whatever culture spells her name like that?
But they won’t argue.
She has black hair and blue eyes
and enough has happened.
Bernice Read – Dysfunctional
A tough and humane poem. As it says, ‘This is not a pretty story.’ It takes real insight to select and arrange the details that will bear that story through the generations – so that we trust the wisdom of the last stanza: ‘Enough had happened’, new life is coming through.
The Ghost House
Knee-high, a ghost house must be made
of hair. Our elbow-length porcelain needles
break the tears hairclips made in the strands.
A roof, a door, a porch, one room:
the ghost house starts to soak up bad spirits.
It growls and rocks from corner to corner.
The ladies who requested the ghost house
perch in a semicircle. Their fingers, stitched tightly
together with wire, show that they do no labour.
‘Remember, this house is for the foundlings,
to keep their lives free of bad spirits’, each lady lisps
through a big pearl tongue-piercing.
The foundlings munch a peach each
to the right of us. They toddle in a cot of beech boards
swirled dryly with white emulsion;
at their wrists are maternal parting gifts:
‘I am Daisy’ felt-tipped on blackening pink silk,
‘Behind me, Satan’ scratched into a military button.
The cot will be chopped up tomorrow,
stacked in the lake at the zoo
for storks to wobble on.
The ghost house will watch from a swept dresser
in the children’s school. Their teachers
lisp: ‘do not be naughty or we’ll let the spirits out’.
Laura Seymour – The Ghost House
The poem stanza by stanza composes a complete metaphor. That is, it asks to be taken for itself, entered into, inhabited. There is a good deal of menace in the house. We feel for the foundlings in it. The poem guards its autonomy; it suggests and reminds us of many things, but won’t be reduced to any one of them.
I am building a castle from which to hang my hair.
Leaving the windows open
Whilst I paint the walls, white
With the possibilities of my future.
The room we slept in has been rebuilt
The fireplace, repointed.
And I am listening to radio stations
we never listened to.
Panning, as if for gold
I sweep the dust of you, out, from under my bed.
Unsure of what remains,
Of what was there before.
I have been loved, loved and found wanting.
I am the embodiment of how unpalatable I am
Yet I remain optimistic
at this other chance at love
So I am building scaffolding with my branches
Which have lost their weeping habit
And once again, as my hormones rage
I begin to reach for the sun
I know that I am seeking metaphors
to explain myself.
As I wait to become that person
who is accountable for her flaws.
Cathy Symes – Seeking metaphors
Another building – a rebuilding. And here it is a life that is being rebuilt, or a place in which from now on an autonomous life may be lived. Metaphors, as the last stanza says, may be a way of explaining and, more important still, of becoming. Poems and fictions help.
(after Ted Hughes)
Something living was curious, and came indoors -
a fox cub skittering in the kitchen,
cock-eyed at its own wrong-doing,
slipping on the tiles.
Thinking of it, your eyes widen, as though a fox
bristles in peripheral vision.
Somehow, you have linked yourself
with the little thought-fox.
When I go through the pockets of a wiry
tweed coat, or double check your handbags
for loose change and letters (finding once a foil heart) -
when I wake up remembering the texture
of your old pink dress, the white slubs in its fabric,
the way it’s fallen loose from its plastic sleeve -
that’s when you place yourself, I don’t know
how, aside that quick, escaping thing.
Josie Turner – Fox
Mysteriously, the woman addressed in the poem sides with the fox, the curious wild creature, that has trespassed into the kitchen. It seems she has found a resource there, a way of being elusive and lively. Fox, speaker, addressee make up a very intriguing configuration. As in all good poems, something that matters is in play, at stake
The Contributors 2013
PRIZES: 1st: £300 2nd: £150 3rd: £75 and Ten Merit Prizes of £10.00
Adjudicator: David Constantine
Closing Date: 14th August 2013
1. The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over.
2. Poems should be in English, unpublished, not accepted or submitted for publication elsewhere, and must be your original work.
3. Poems should not be entered in any other competition, or have previously been a prizewinner in any other competition.
4. Poems should be no longer than 40 lines.
5. Each poem should be typed on a separate sheet of A4 paper, and must not bear your name or any other form of identification. On a separate sheet of paper list your name, address, titles of poems submitted, and where you heard about this competition. No application form necessary.
6. Entry fee: £3.00 per poem or £10.00 for 4 poems.
7. Any number of poems can be submitted on payment of the appropriate fee. Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to Nottingham Poetry Society. No stamps, foreign currency or Irish P.O’s accepted
8.Winners will be notified in September 2013
9. Prizes will be presented at a public adjudication in Nottingham on 26th October 2013. All prizewinning poems will be published on this website. The decision of the adjudicator is final.
10. Entries should be addressed to: The Competition Secretary, 38 Harrow Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 7DU
11. No entrant may be awarded more than one prize.
To request further details, please contact us .